Breadmaking 101

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Breadmaking 101

Postby RoadieRich » Sat Feb 20, 2010 1:04 pm UTC

Hi everyone. I've decided to experiment with making bread, something I've never tried before.

I've found this recipe, which seems simple enough, and I just thought I'd ask some of the veterans here for pointers: common mistakes, tips and tricks and that sort of thing. Suggestions for better recipes to start with would also be appreciated.

I'm not after anything fancy, just a good foundation to start later experiments from.

Also, I'm not exactly certain what the instructions mean by "knock back". I've seen in the bread thread the instruction to "punch" the dough. I'm assuming it's the same thing, and is to be taken literally (as in "strike with fist"), until the volume has reduced significantly?

I've just realised it could mean punch as in "hole punch", so clarification would be greatly appreciated.
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Re: Breadmaking 101

Postby Nath » Sat Feb 20, 2010 1:26 pm UTC

I'm no veteran, but I've made bread a couple of times. For a first attempt, it's hard to go wrong with no-knead bread.

And yes, 'knock back' probably means 'punch down'.

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Re: Breadmaking 101

Postby PatrickRsGhost » Sat Feb 20, 2010 3:07 pm UTC

Good starters are your friends.

Even if the recipe doesn't say to do so, it's always best to let the yeast "feed" off the warm water and sugar for at least 10 minutes. What I've usually done is start with lukewarm (room temperature or body temperature) water, and for every ¼-cup of liquid, use 2 tablespoons of yeast and an equal amount of sugar. Stir gently with wooden spoon. Allow to sit for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add additional ingredients, stirring in as you go, until the dough is nice and stiff. Usually you want the dough to be the consistency of taffy. Take out of the bowl, place on a well-floured surface, knead a few times (for most bread recipes, you only need to do it 4 or 5 times), place back in the bowl, but have the bowl cleaned out and well-greased, flip the dough over so that the entire ball is greased, then cover with a towel and place in an unheated oven for an hour to an hour and a half.

On the TV show "America's Test Kitchen" one thing they found that worked was to heat your oven to 200ºF for about 10 minutes, then turn it off. Once you're ready to place the dough in the oven to rise, it will be warm enough that it will act as a proofer, cutting down on the amount of time needed to let the dough rise.

You have to let the dough rise several times, depending on how often you work with it. When you form it and place it in a loaf pan or two, you have to let it rise in the loaf pan(s) before baking. To help get that lovely golden color, brush the surface with egg white, milk, salt water, or melted butter. If you want to be fancy and have those slits like you see in some breads at the bakery, take a paring knife and cut a few slits, very shallow, in the top of the loaf prior to baking. It's best to let the dough rise at least 30 minutes after you have done that.

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Re: Breadmaking 101

Postby Enuja » Sat Feb 20, 2010 8:50 pm UTC

I've gotten into baking bread at home a few times over the past 10 years or so, and I've got to endorse the no-knead method. I actually miss kneading, but the super-high moisture bread, rising very slowly with a tiny amount of initial yeast, has a fantastic texture. I've made all kinds of wonderful tasting breads at home, but none of them have had the wonderful open crumb of no-knead bread. And maybe I'm just a wierdo, but the fantastic texture is what makes it worth it to bake bread at home; for me, the interesting flavors come second.

I'm going to disagree entirely with PratrickRsGhost. Bread with a starter is going to have a fantastic taste (assuming you've got a fantastic tasting starter), but I don't think I've ever made bread from a starter with a particularly fantastic crumb. More importantly, a starter is something keep around once you've decided that you really enjoy baking bread, and you're going to continue to bake bread at home on a regular basis. Despite the name, a starter is not something to start your home bread-baking with. Since I go through manicial bread-baking periods and droughts, I don't keep a starter around, despite the fact that I've actually made some pretty good starters.

Also, PartrickRsGhost discusses the direct-dough method versus dissolving the yeast first. You need lower temperature water if you're going to dissolve the yeast in water, and higher temperature water if you put the yeast in with the flour and then mix the dry and wet ingredients, but both methods work quite well (possibly depending on your yeast).

Just a warning: I've been convinced that whole wheat is healthier than white flour, but if you do the white flour no-knead bread, the fantastic texture is going to be a difficult thing to give up. My most recent loaf of bread was the original no-knead bread, with 2.5 cups of whole wheat bread, 0.5 cups of rye bread (to make the flavor more interesting: while I like just wheat bread from white flour, the flavor is somehow ... monotonous to me if I don't mix flours or otherwise add a different flour), and 3 Tablespoons of vital wheat gluten. The texture is good, and I think it's my new favorite bread, but the texture is not as amazing as white flour no-knead bread.

No-Knead Bread recipe
Narrative description of no-knead bread

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Re: Breadmaking 101

Postby PAstrychef » Sun Feb 21, 2010 7:38 pm UTC

One nice thing about bread is that on the whole it's rather forgiving.
While having a starter is lovely, you really don't need one to made really good bread. I made the white bread from the Joy of Cooking for years before I became a baker.
If you like the science/math parts of cooking R. Berenbaum's Bread Bible has lots of good explanations and shows measures by weight and percentage.
Do get a scale-as good a one as you can afford. It makes baking a much more successful endeavor.
And while having a mixer do the work is nice, and making no-knead bread is simple, actually getting you hands on the dough will teach you more than anything else about what's working and what isn't.
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